Before You Give Your Child a Device…

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Many parents give their children phones and/or tablets as gifts. Or, just because. When we give them these devices, we are usually thinking they will enjoy playing games with friends online and talking/texting with their friends on their device. We also know that we will appreciate having access to them anytime because of the device.

However, how often do we think about the dangers of these devices? How many of us have had real conversations with our children (and not just our middle schoolers and high schoolers) about what could happen because of the easy access to others that these devices offer?

Before you purchase a device or gaming console for your child, make sure you talk with them about the potential dangers. Make sure YOU are aware of the potential dangers and do not get stuck in a mindset of, “that won’t happen to me…I know what my child is doing.”

If you’ve been to the Columbia airport (or any airport, actually), you’ve probably seen signs for people who need help because of trafficking (there are posters in the bathroom).

For a long time, I thought this was related to drug trafficking. I envisioned Orange is the New Black when I saw the posters and felt bad for people in that situation, but considered it to be something that affected adults who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Recently, I learned more about trafficking and these posters are not enough, nor are they reaching the wider audience of those who may need help.

Did you know that there are different types of trafficking? Some traffickers target runaways and other youth and young adults who are clearly lost and vulnerable in real life. Some target CHILDREN on the internet through platforms like Snapchat and Instagram and even online games. These “pimps” are looking for vulnerable youth who will send pictures and videos to them to then sell as child pornography.

It starts out as friendship. A stranger will reach out to a child and earn their trust. Little by little that “trust” turns into sending graphic pictures and then it becomes something more – a child could be coerced into doing something they do not want to do because they are fearful their family will be harmed or that images and videos will be shared online for all to see.

Essentially, children are blackmailed and are often too scared to tell anyone what is going on. This can happen to children at ANY age.

teen girl on device

So, what can you do?

Here are some suggestions and resources to explore before giving your child a device or letting them play online games.

Suggestions

1. Talk to your children about chatting with people online who they do not know face-to-face.

2. Take your child’s phone and look through it.

3. Help your kids set up their social media accounts to ensure everything is private. Also, make sure you are on their friends list so you can see what they are sharing. Look through friends lists and ask about anyone whose name you do not know.

4. Learn how to use these social media accounts yourself so that you can check to see for multiple accounts your child may have. Some children set up an account for their parents to see and then another secret account for friends and others. Talk to your child to see if they are doing this and explain the dangers. Do not sugar coat it.

5. Do not let your child (no matter what age) take the device to bed. Not only does the light affect their sleep, but when you are sleeping – how will you know what is going on with your children and the device? It’s good family policy to lock up all the phones until the morning.

Will your tweens and teens hate you a little (or a lot) for this? Yes. Who cares? And, don’t just limit yourself to talking to your tweens and teens. Have real conversation with younger kids too. If they have a device, they need the talk.

Books

1. Made in the U.S.A.: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children by Alisa Jordheim – A very difficult book to read because it is so graphic, but a very important book to read. The author shares stories of children who have been trafficked in different situations.

2. Raising a Screen-Smart Kid: Embrace the Good and Avoid the Bad in the Digital Age by Julianna Miner – This is an excellent book that is full of tips for parents on raising “screen-smart” kids.

Websites and Articles

1. New York Times, How to Protect Your Children From Online Sexual Predators 

2. New York Times, Video Games and Online Chats Are ‘Hunting Grounds’ for Sexual Predators 

3. Child Sex Trafficking – United States Department of Justice 

4. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Cyber Tipline

I hope these tips and resources are helpful to you. It’s scary but it’s also important we educate ourselves in order to protect our children. 

How do you monitor your children’s safety on devices?

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Valerie Byrd Fort was born in Florida, but when she was four years old, her family moved to the midlands and never looked back. She is mom to Katy (human) and to Lucky, Mozzy, and Penny (rescue dogs). She is married to Marty Fort, owner of the Lexington School of Music, Columbia Arts Academy, and Irmo Music Academy. She is an Instructor for the School of Library & Information Science at the University of South Carolina, where she teaches Children’s Literature to future classroom teachers and librarians. She is also Coordinator for Cocky's Reading Express, the University of South Carolina's literacy outreach program. Valerie is passionate about books, literacy, libraries, and reading aloud with children of ALL ages. She writes about books and other literacy related topics on her blog, Library Goddess. In her free time, Valerie enjoys reading, Barre3, going to Target and endless scrolling of social media  

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